When a Prophet Visits: Matthew Fox Sweeps through Berea

Matthew Fox came through my hometown, Berea Kentucky, a few weeks ago. I’m still energized by the experience. It showed me what happens when a prophet drops by.

Matt’s the ex-Dominican theologian and spiritual teacher who was hounded out of his Order by Pope Ratzinger (aka Benedict XVI). His offense? The same as that of the 101 theologians and pastoral leaders that Fox has posted on his “Wailing Wall of Silenced, Expelled, or Banished Theologians and Pastoral Leaders under Ratzinger.” (The names appear at the end of Fox’s book The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved.)  The names include giants like Karl Rahner, Ivone Gebara, Edward Schillebeeckx, and my former teacher in Rome, the great moral theologian Bernard Haring.

As Matt’s more than 30 books show, he, like the others, was censured by Pope Benedict XVI for being too good a theologian and spiritual guide; he tried too hard to implement the directives of the Second Vatican Council; he was too successful in connecting the Christian Tradition to our post-modern world. All of that our ex-Hitler Youth Pope finds extremely threatening to his overriding pre-Vatican II values: order and Group Think directed from above.

My wife, Peggy, had instigated Matthew Fox’s visit to Berea College. As Director of Women’s Studies she had invited him for her “Peanut Butter and Gender” series of luncheons. Over the years, the twice-monthly event has paralleled the College’s convocation program of speakers and artists.  At “PB&G,” Matt gave a dynamite talk on men’s spirituality. Later on in the afternoon, he spoke to the entire student body wowing everyone in the process.

Of course, I attended both events. But I was even more privileged because Fox visited our home the night before. Over Manhattans he, Peggy and I compared notes, were surprised by friendships we share with others, and spoke of the dismal state the Catholic Church has reached under the “leadership” of the last two and a half popes (Ratzinger, John Paul II, and the last half of Paul VI’s term in office). Additionally, I had an hour or so in the car with Matt as I drove him to the Lexington Blue Grass Airport the morning after his visit. We spoke of Ratzinger’s 1968 “conversion” to the Catholic rendition of religious fundamentalism, and of Matt’s work with the witch, Starhawk (whom he identified with evident admiration as a “genuine liberation theologian”).

However, the highlight of the entire experience was a potluck supper at our home. Peggy had organized that too – for members of our Berea parish, St. Clare’s. The idea was for the Peace and Justice Committee and other progressives to meet with Fox and discuss how to respond to the drabness and irrelevancy of what passes for worship and Christian community in our church.

After an extraordinary potluck supper, about twenty-five of us sat in a big circle in our living room. Everyone joined in with comments, complaints, questions and concerns. Matt took it all in, responded when appropriate, and then shared his insights.

His most telling observation was to reverse the common perception shared by most in the room. That’s the opinion that progressive Vatican II Catholics have somehow been marginalized by the church. Fox turned that notion on its head. He held instead that we are the ones who are orthodox, while the last two (anti-Vatican II) popes are actually schismatic. They and their Vatican Curia are the outsiders, while we are the faithful ones adhering to the official teaching of the Catholic Church which remains the doctrine of Vatican II.

What to do about it all? Fox was helpful there as well. In fact, at the end of The Pope’s War, he lists “Twenty-Five Concrete Steps to Take Christianity into the Future.”  All of those steps were thought- provoking. However in terms of Fox’s “schism” observation, here’s the one that hit hardest for me:

“Instead of ‘Vatican III’ or a so-called lay synod that is gerrymandered by clerical curialists, let the various lay leadership groups hold national and then international gatherings among themselves – synods that are worthy of the name. Let them give marching orders to church officials instead of the other way around. Let the church officials listen to the laity for a change. Let the laity choose the theologians they wish to be their periti at such synods (if any).”

Along those lines, next month the “Call to Action” Conference will be meeting in Cincinnati. A group from our parish will be attending that convocation of progressive Catholics. Matthew Fox will speak there. I’ll be in attendance with my friends.

Expect a report in this blog.

Mini-Class on the Historical Jesus: Early Development of the Christian Tradition

(This is the fifth in a series of Monday postings on the historical Jesus. Together the pieces are intended to assist those who wish to “dig deeper” into the scholarly foundations of postmodern faith and to understand the methodology behind the postings on the blog site.)

The modern scripture scholarship we’re exploring here has discovered that there were five stages in the unfolding of the tradition we encounter in the Christian Testament. Understanding these stages is important for grasping the difference between the Jesus of history this series is attempting to explain and the Jesus of faith who has come to dominate our understandings of the prophet from Nazareth.

The five stages I’m referring to include (1) the actual life of Jesus, (2) his disciples post-crucifixion “resurrection experience,” (3) the first proclamation of the disciples’ post-resurrection faith (called “kerygma,” a Greek word for proclamation), (4) a long period of oral tradition, and (5) the production of written reflections on the believing community’s experience of Jesus including his response to problems he did not himself encounter during his life. At each of these stages the Jesus of history recedes further from the Jesus of faith.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll devote a column a week to briefly exploring each one of the stages just referenced. This week I’ll  begin with some observations about what we’re able to say about the life of Jesus by applying the criteria for discernment I tried to explain last week. You’ll recall that those criteria were:  (1) Multiple attestation from independent sources, (2)  Dissimilarity from the apparent immediate interests of biblical authors , (3) Semitisms, (4)Content reflecting the circumstances of the early church rather than of Jesus, (5)Vividness of descriptionand (5) Coherence with acts or statements otherwise identified as authentically attributable to Jesus. Additionally, relevant scholarly insights are derived from the modern disciplines of linguistics, archeology, textual criticism, comparative religion, history, psychology, economics, physics, biology, medicine, etc.

Application of these criteria uncovers a Jesus who is:

(1) A teacher of unconventional wisdom: Jesus’ teachings largely deviated from those of the rabbis of his time. In contrast to them, we would say he was extremely liberal in his interpretation of the Jewish tradition and especially of its laws. Law was not a priority for Jesus. In fact we might say he understood himself as fulfilling the Law by breaking laws and teaching others to do so. His priority was a Higher Law which put positive response to human need ahead of legal requirements. Jesus method of teaching such values was parable and story.

(2) A faith healer. Jesus was more than a miracle worker. As scholars point out, miracle workers in the first century of the Common Era were “a dime a dozen.” All “great men” – including emperors and kings – were expected to work miracles and were remembered as doing so. It would have been remarkable had Jesus not been identified as a miracle worker. Instead, Jesus was a faith healer of extraordinary power. His presence and words were able to evoke the healing powers present within all human beings.

(3) A prophetic critic. Jesus was not a priest or a king. He was a prophet. Prophets were social critics. So Jesus addressed the problems of his day including Roman imperialism and the collaboration with that system of exploitation on the part of the religious “leadership” of his day – its priests and kings.

(4) A Jewish mystic. Mystics are spiritual practitioners and teachers who believe that: (a) a spark of the divine resides within each human being; (b) humans can know that divinity and live from that place within them; (c) it is the purpose of life to do so, and (d) once that purpose is realized, the enlightened human perceives the spark of the divine in all of creation and lives accordingly.

(5) A movement founder. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. His purpose was to reform Judaism. His specific interest was to proclaim a Jubilee Year which included debt forgiveness and land reform on behalf of the poor.  Following his death, Jesus’ Jewish reform movement evolved into a “church” overwhelmingly composed on non-Jews.

Next Week: Step One in the Development of the Christian Tradition: A portrait of the Jesus of History.

Beggars, Takers and Faith Healing

Today’s Readings: Jer. 31:7-9; Ps. 126: 1-6; Heb. 5:1-6; Mk. 10: 46-52

(http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102812.cfm)

A few weeks ago a “secret” video was released involving presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The video showed Mr. Romney speaking with deep-pocketed campaign supporters and, in effect, addressing the issue of blind beggars – one of whom is centralized in this morning’s gospel reading.

According to Mr. Romney, 47% of Americans “never take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  The Republican candidate’s running mate, Paul Ryan, called such people “takers.” He estimated that 30% of Americans fall into that category. In language associated with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a hero of Mr. Ryan (whom our diocesan paper Crossroads describes as a “devout Catholic”) just under half of us are “moochers” and “unproductive eaters.”

I’m sure many of those who tried to silence the blind Bartimaeus in this Sunday’s gospel selection thought of him in those terms. After all, he was a beggar – and a pushy one at that. When they tried to silence him he just shouted out louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

In fact, Bartimaeus shouted so insistently that Jesus heard above the din of the crowd, and asked that the beggar be brought to him.

And what did Jesus say? Did he say, “What’s wrong with you, Bart? Why don’t you get a job? Don’t you care about yourself? Take some responsibility, man. I’m tired of seeing takers like you just sitting around all day producing nothing and eating at the expense of others! Someone, call the police and get this guy off the street. And as for the rest of you, follow my example of ‘tough love’.”

Of course Jesus didn’t say such things. As compassion itself and as a prophet, Jesus instead followed in the footsteps of Jeremiah whose words were proclaimed in this morning’s first reading. There Jeremiah was a spokesperson for a God announcing good news specifically to women, their children, the exiled, blind, and lame. As today’s readings from the Book of Psalms recalls, that God makes those people’s dreams come true, and turns their tears to laughter, not to guilt and shame.

So Jesus’ real words to Bartimaeus were “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus answers, “My teacher let me see again.”

The Great Faith Healer responds, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

It was a simple as that. Then we’re told the beggar immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus “on the way.”

Note that Jesus’ prophetic example was enough to change the attitude of the crowd. One minute they were “sternly” ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. But as soon as Jesus said “Call him here,” they changed their tune. Their words became encouraging and enthusiastic. They said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.”

Someone has said, “If you want to become invisible, become poor.”  That means that where the poor – where blind beggars like Bartimaeus – are concerned most of us are blind. We just don’t see them. Above all, we don’t see our own condition as beggars. I mean all of us are in many ways “takers.” No matter how we may protest our self-sufficiency, we did not “build it” without help from others. And that’s true even of the “donors” Mitt Romney was begging from.

Elizabeth Warren who is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat against Scott Brown put it best. She said,

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory . . . Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Prophetic words like that can cure our blindness and establish solidarity with those the self-made see as takers, moochers and useless eaters.

The reason we are here this morning is to have our liturgical encounter with the faith-healer, Jesus of Nazareth. He can cure our blindness to the ones who in our tradition are closest to God’s heart – the exiles, beggars, blind, lame and the mothers who hold up half the sky that blesses us all.

Let our prayer this morning be that of Bartimaeus, “My teacher, let me see again.” I am blind and a beggar. Let me see with your eyes, Jesus. Let my faith in you make me well. I want to follow you “on the way” you have trod.

The Highly Dispensable Nation (And Whom to Vote for in Two Weeks)

I watched the third debate the night before last, and at first came away thoroughly discouraged. What’s the use? I thought. These guys are both the same. I almost cancelled my plans to host a “Ten Days to Win” phone call party at my home next Saturday. But while it’s true that the third debate revealed remarkable similarity between the candidates on foreign policy, their differences on domestic policy kept me from cancelling. Even more so did consideration of the candidates’ diverse bases of support, and the hope that Obama’s base offers (in contrast to the man himself).  Let me explain.

To begin with, the third debate displayed two candidates converging around at least 10 highly destructive myths:

  1. The U.S. is the one indispensable nation in the world.
  2. U.S. foreign policy is aimed at fostering “a peaceful planet.”
  3. Those same policies favor democracy, free elections, international law, and human rights – especially those of women.
  4. Terrorism, whose causes remain mysterious, must be stopped at all costs.
  5. To that end, drone strikes anywhere in the world are good and necessary.
  6. Iran is a major threat to us, so sanctions against it are reasonable and moral.
  7. Nuclear capability is a crime.
  8. Dollars spent on the military are a valid measure of commitment to national security.
  9. Israel’s policies must be supported as if they were our own.
  10. Climate change is irrelevant to foreign policy.

Of course none of those ten myths is true. What is true is that:

  1. In terms of “a peaceful planet,” democracy, free elections, international law, human rights (especially those of women) the world would be better off if the current incarnation of the U.S. dropped off the planet. (Please think about that. I am serious here.)
  2. Terrorism’s causes are not at all mysterious and almost all are connected with U.S. foreign policy. In fact, as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman pointed out long ago, the U.S. is the most prominent purveyor of “wholesale terrorism” – state terrorism – in the world. What it has declared war against are expressions of “retail terrorism” which are small potatoes (even 9/11) by comparison – basically “blowback” to U.S. state terrorism.
  3. Extrajudicial killings even by remote control contravene the “international law” both presidential candidates so solemnly invoked. (By the way, according to Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, the Benghazi debacle was in direct response to the June 4th 2012 drone killing of the insurgent theologian, Abu Ayahya al Libi. At 49, he was a hero of the Libyan Revolution and one of the most senior members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Revenge was sworn at his death and postponed till the anniversary of 9/11. This has received no mention I’m aware of in the mainstream press – certainly none in the presidential debates.)
  4. As Joe Biden pointed out, Iran poses no threat at all to the United States. On the contrary, for the past three years and more Iran has been the one threatened on a daily basis by Israel which has itself covertly developed deliverable nuclear weapons. So if any nation has reason to launch a preemptive attack, it would be Iran against Israel. But no such threat has been made.
  5. What does “nuclear capability” mean anyway?
  6. Absolute security is a goal impossible to attain. Its pursuit via already astronomical military spending benefits no one but the military-industrial complex.
  7. Israel has been an international outlaw at least since November 22, 1967, when the U.N. unanimously adopted Resolution 242 forbidding the occupation of Palestinian territories annexed in the Six Day War. Israel’s assault on Gaza, its secret development of nuclear weapons, and its crimes on the high seas interdicting ships bringing aid to Palestinians interned in Gaza have only compounded Israel’s fundamental crime of illegal occupation. Hence U.S. support of the outlaw nation of Israel not only contradicts U.S. national interests but amounts to aiding and abetting criminal activity.
  8. Given its importance to the future of the planet, climate change should have been the focus not only of this “foreign policy” debate, but of the entire presidential campaign. It was mentioned not once in any of the debates.

How should awareness of these myths and their evident contradictions influence us in the general elections just two weeks off? Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. There is no doubt that the presidential candidates have adopted almost identical approaches to foreign policy.
  2. However they differ on domestic policy in non-trivial ways:

a)      Romney wants to retain tax breaks for the 1% while Obama does not.

b)      Romney intends to further deregulate the market undoing the mild reforms introduced after the crash of 2008. Obama will resist such measures.

c)       Following the lead of Paul Ryan’s “economic plan,” Romney will drastically cut domestic programs for the country’s most vulnerable. He will attempt to privatize Social Security, make Medicare a voucher program, and do something similar with Medicaid. Meanwhile, Obama’s austerity measures will be less drastic though also basically unfair – because austerity for the 99% is unnecessary in the face of the nation’s unprecedented concentration of wealth.

d)      Romney will appoint more neo-conservatives to the Supreme Court when the opportunity arrives.

e)      On social policy, life with Romney will be harder on women, gays, the poor and labor unions.

To repeat, while such differences are not as wide as some of us might desire, they are not at all unimportant. However one really important difference remains for me and is determinative for my voting.

That difference is the one between Romney’s base of support and that of Obama. Romney’s base is made up of Tea Party folks. They are basically white, religious literalists, evolution and climate science deniers; they are corporate-friendly, male-dominated, less educated, and angry about the ascendency of minorities. Obama’s base is more diverse. Blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly support him. So do union members, liberal Christians, gays, atheists, and those with university educations. Women tend to be more Democratic than men.

In an evolving world, history is on the side of the Obama’s base rather than the Romney’s. Simple population trends kicking in as I write, are running swift and fast against the Republican base. As someone has said, they’re running out of angry white guys. So even the passage of four more years without GOP control of the White House (not to mention the Congress) will buy Obama’s base and their interests more time. That means the political conversation is likely to shift in a more liberal direction even over the next quadrennial.

Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy is on the horizon.

That’s why I’m going through with that party next Saturday. That’s why I’m voting for Obama (while firmly holding my nose). I’m buying time.

How Do We Know What Jesus Actually Said and Did?

(This is the fourth in a series of brief articles on the historical Jesus. Together the pieces are intended to assist those who wish to “dig deeper” into the scholarly foundations of postmodern faith and to understand the methodology behind the postings on the blog site.)

Last week we considered seven conclusions drawn from the biblical scholarship that has emerged since the “Enlightenment” of the eighteenth century. As far as the Christian Testament is concerned, one of the most important discernments of that scholarship is the difference between the pre-resurrection “Jesus of history” and the post-resurrection “Jesus of faith.” How do scholars tell the difference?  For example, how do participants in “the Jesus Seminar” decide what Jesus actually said as opposed to words put in Jesus’ mouth by the early church? They do so by applying the following half dozen criteria.

a)      Multiple attestation from independent sources: If a saying or event is supported not only by the canonical gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, but also by newly discovered texts like the Gospel of Thomas, or of Mary Magdalene, then the saying or event  probably belongs to the historical Jesus.

b)      Dissimilarity: If words or deeds attributed to Jesus would be embarrassing to the early church, they were probably included because the words were actually said or the deeds performed. An example of such inclusion would be Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John.  This event diverges from the underlying and evident intentions of the Gospel authors. That intent was to present Jesus as the fullest revelation of God (and eventually as God himself). But being baptized by John suggests that Jesus was John’s disciple. It implies John’s superiority to Jesus. So having Jesus baptized by John is counterproductive – or “dissimilar” from the authors’ purposes. The Gospel authors, however, point it out anyway, indicating that the baptism actually took place; that everyone knew about it; and that it had to be explained away. The rationalizing explanations take the form of having John say, “I am not worthy to loose the sandals of this man” (Mk. 1:7). Or “I should be baptized by you. How is it that you come to me for baptism?” (Mt. 3:14). Dissimilarity also applies to the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus is presented as doing or saying something that radically departs from accepted rabbinical teaching (dissimilar to it), that’s probably the historical Jesus surfacing. For instance, when Jesus pardons the woman caught in adultery, and says, “Neither do I condemn you,” that’s probably Jesus’ voice. The immediate addition, “Now go and sin no more,” is probably the voice of the author who is still influenced by conventional rabbinical teaching and is scandalized by Jesus’ “liberalism” (Jn. 8:11).

c)       Semitisms: The Gospels were written in Greek. When Aramaic words (the language of Jesus) are included in the text (and immediately translated by the Gospel author), that’s good reason to believe that the Aramaic words were remembered as actually spoken by Jesus. For instance, in the cure of the daughter of Jairus, Jesus is remembered as saying “Talitha cumi” (Mk. 5:41).

d)      Context reflecting the circumstances of the early church rather than of Jesus: This is a negative criterion. It means that words and/or deeds that reflect the circumstances of the early church [e.g. about church leadership (Mt. 16:13-20); about resolution of disputes within it (Mt. 18:15); about divorce and remarriage (Lk. 16:18)] were probably not spoken by Jesus. Similarly, words and/ or deeds attributed to Jesus that do not accord with his historical context or with the overall thrust of his teaching are to be identified as inauthentic. For example if God is presented as punishing and vengeful, the presentation probably represents the voice of the authors who still could not break away from the traditional way of thinking that Jesus himself revised and rejected.

e)      Vividness of description. Inclusion of vivid details indicates a memory closely associated with Jesus’ actual words and deeds. For instance when Jesus is described as spitting on dirt and making a paste to cure a man’s blindness (Jn. 9:6), that’s probably what happened.

f)       Coherence with acts or statements otherwise identified as authentically attributable to Jesus: Words or deeds that accord with those established as authentic through application of the previously mentioned criteria qualify as probably belonging to the historical Jesus.

Next Week: The Five Stages in the Development of New Testament Tradition

Women Show the Way to Fullness of Life (Not to Heaven)

Readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Is. 53:10-11; Ps. 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; Heb. 4: 14-16; Mk. 10:35-45 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102112.cfm

Marcus Borg, the great Jesus scholar, talks about his list of the “Ten Worst Contributions of Religion to Human Culture.” Topping that list, he says, is popular Christianity’s belief in the afterlife. When asked about the other nine, Borg says he can’t remember what they are. . . .

Second on my own list (perhaps even first) would be the idea that God has designated men to be rulers of the world and church, while women are to be seen and not heard. Today’s liturgy of the word addresses both of those items in Religion’s Worst Ideas.

Take that first one about heaven and hell. Borg sees belief in the afterlife is so harmful because it has led to a law and rule-based Christianity that centers on “going to heaven” as a reward for “keeping the commandments.” Such quid pro quo thinking, he says, is a complete distortion of Christianity.

Borg reminds us that the afterlife is not at all the focus of Christian belief – nor of Jewish “Old Testament” faith for that matter. In fact, ideas about life after death didn’t surface in Judaism till well after the Babylonian Exile six centuries before the birth of Jesus – probably as a result of contact with the Persians.  And the first unambiguous biblical reference to meaningful survival of the individual after death comes only in the book of Daniel which was written about 150 years before the birth of Jesus. That means that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and none of the prophets were motivated by desire for heaven or escape from hell. Those ideas were simply not part of their mental landscapes.

Instead, for those tribal people, faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about land – the Land of Canaan which was celebrated as God’s gift to his favored People. The word “salvation” then meant a Palestine free from occupation by imperialists, be they Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, or Romans.

With that in mind, consider today’s readings and their references to “long life,” “fullness of days,” and “greatness” for the “Suffering Servant” who is “crushed” and loses his life on behalf of others. The words are reminiscent of Jesus’ pronouncement that sacrificing one’s life was the way to save it. Conversely, trying to “save one’s life” was the sure way to lose it.

Those are mysterious words. What might they mean: by giving one’s life for others, one actually achieves long life and fullness of days? How can one have long life and fullness of days when he or she is dead? (You can see how that question would lead subsequent generations of Christians to adopt the “afterlife” hopes of Greco-Roman, Persian and Egyptian cultures to answer that question.)

Given Jesus’ centralization of God’s Kingdom, the answer of Jesus (and that of Second Isaiah) seems to have been that self-sacrificial non-violent resistance to all forms of imperial domination provides such a powerful example and inspiring force that the community rises with new energy, life, and fullness of life when the suffering servant is inevitably killed by imperial forces.

For Mark’s community, that had proven true in the case of Jesus; its members experienced Jesus’ presence more intensely and more meaningfully following his execution than before. For us, we can see the same truth illustrated in the cases of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, and Rachel Corrie and Karen Silkwood. After their deaths, and arguably because of their deaths, they exercise more influence on us today than they did while they were alive. That’s the mystery Jesus gestures towards in today’s reading.

What can this mean for us? For one, it calls us to recommit ourselves to non-violent resistance of the anti-kingdom forces among us. That’s our political task as we live out our lives in the belly of empire’s beast here in the United States.

But Jesus’ words about servanthood show us that such resistance should permeate our lives at the domestic every-day level as well. (And here’s where the point about women comes in.)  In both cases, the political and domestic, the kingdom is not brought on by exercising the kind of “power over” that characterizes empire, and that apparently motivates the request of the Sons of Zebedee in this morning’s Gospel. The Zebedee boys have a typically patriarchal approach; they’re asking Jesus to let them exercise “power over” others.  This typically male idea sees force and violence as the solution to most problems.

Instead, the approach of “servanthood”—of putting the needs of others first – is typically feminine. And in Mark’s Gospel from beginning to the end it is women who are referred to in servant language. In the beginning of Mark (1:31), the first act of Peter’s mother in law upon being cured by Jesus is to serve food to her benefactor and his companion. And at the end Mark (15:41) Mary Magdalene along with another Mary and Salome are identified beneath Jesus’ cross as “those who used to follow him and provide for him when he was in Galilee.”

All of that suggests, as scripture scholar Ched Myers has said, that Jesus here is proposing the notion of “servant leadership.” It suggests that the practical content of that concept is typically embodied not in men, but in women.

In fact, I think, it suggests that in a patriarchal system like ours (politically, domestically, and in the church) the only ones fit to exercise leadership are women. Typically, they are the ones who shed light on the meaning of “servant-leader” and of fullness of life. And they do so in ways that those bad ideas of heaven and “power-over” simply cannot.   What do you think?

(Discussion follows)

Thanks Amy Goodman For Breaking the Sound Barrier

Like 69 million other Americans, I watched the second presidential debate from Hofstra University last night. And I must confess I was pleased to see President Obama “win.” This was the Obama so notably absent from the first debate. He came out swinging, was feisty, incisive and smart. He clearly won, and was the more able of the two debaters. That made me feel better – but only because President Obama is the lesser of two evils and only because the parameters of debate were so narrowly set.

My point is that there were only two candidates on stage.  As a result, there was a remarkable convergence of assumptions and positions between the two. That convergence might have been avoided had other candidates been allowed onstage with the two corporate spokespersons now posturing before us as candidates presenting us with “stark differences.”

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” has tried to remedy the situation in a series of debates she calls “Breaking the Sound-Barrier” (http://www.democracynow.org/).  The title’s reference is to her show’s inclusion of opinion beyond that endorsed by the corporate interests that shape public debate – that set the “limits of perception” more effectively than blinders on horses.

So this morning on Ms. Goodman’s program, she added three other candidates’ voices to the debate mix: Jill Stein of the Green Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The three took part just as if Candy Crowley’s questions had been presented not only to Messrs Obama and Romney, but to them as well. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer. And by the way, Ms. Goodman was far more successful at imposing time limits than Jim Lehrer, Martha Radatz or Candy Crowley.

The upshot of breaking the system-imposed “sound barrier” was to remarkably soften the differences between candidates Romney and Obama.

For instance, both candidates sparred with each other over who was more the champion of dirty energy, drilling, and pipe lines. Yes, they mentioned “green technologies.” But with both Romney and Obama it always seemed an afterthought. Mr. Romney evoked “drill, baby, drill” memories with his emphasis on more drilling and on the XL Pipeline. Apparently, Mr. Obama was afraid to even mention that while reserving his decision on the XL Pipeline till after the elections, he’s very quietly allowed construction of the U.S. portion to actually begin.

Had Ms. Stein been admitted to the Hofstra debate, Americans would have been reminded of the impact of fossil fuel consumption not only on prices at the gas pump, but on the environment and global warming. (In fact, the notion of climate change received not a single mention in last night’s contest. And this even though it certainly represents the greatest threat to not only U.S. national security, but to life as we know it.) Ms. Stein’s presence would have made Obama and Romney define their positions on the topic, as she would have had the chance to make her case for a “Green New Deal” which draws connections between the consumption of fossil fuel and environmental deterioration, oil wars, and healthcare.

Rocky Anderson’s presence on stage would have brought front and center the concerns of his Justice Party. Without him the words “poverty” and “poor” crossed no one’s lips, even though poverty rates in the United States are at their highest rate since 1965. Similarly, Mr. Anderson would have raised questions of breaking up the “too big to fail” banks and the prosecution of fraudulent bankers not one of whom has yet been brought to trial.

Mr. Anderson would also have made the Republicans, Democrats and public at large reframe the “jobs debate.” Without him, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney could avoid facing the fact that the digital revolution of the last twenty-five years has rendered obsolete conventional ways of thinking about work. Robots have displaced people. As a result, it’s imperative to reframe questions of employment. Available jobs must be shared; it’s as simple as that. Work days, weeks, months, and years need shortening. Vacations need extensions. And the wealth the new technology is currently concentrating in the 1% needs redistribution.

Perhaps no question in last night’s debate more highlighted the need for “breaking the sound barrier” than the one about the differences between Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, and George W. Bush. In his answer, candidate Romney talked about differences in personality and context, championing small businesses, and cracking down on China. Mercifully for him, Mr. Obama did not have to answer the question.

Neither Ms. Stein nor Mr. Anderson would have allowed such question-dodging to pass. The fact is, both Stein and Anderson agree, there is very little important difference between either the Romney or Obama positions or that of former President Bush. In fact under Obama, Bush policies have been exacerbated, and they promise to get even worse under Romney. The list of policy similarities is long: use of torture, promotion of free trade agreements, spying on U.S. citizens, detention of “terrorist” suspects with charge or trial, extra-judicial (drone) executions, championing dirty energy, off-shoring of jobs, misleading agreement that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, refusal to prosecute Bush era war crimes . . .

Yes, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion last night. And I’m happy that he won. I’ll vote for him in November. But my vote is only a stop-gap measure. During the next four years I’m going to devote my political energies to working for the Justice and Green Parties so that in 2014 they won’t be excluded from presidential debates.

Even if their winning the presidency might remain a remote possibility, their inclusion in the debates will serve us all. Thanks, Amy Goodman!